No decision yet on disputed forest road: Putin

9th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday the Russian government was still debating whether to go ahead with plans for a road through a forest which has drawn widespread protests and media coverage.

The respected Vedomosti daily earlier cited Kremlin sources as saying that a final decision in favour of the project had already been reached.

But there was no immediate comment from the Kremlin and Putin said the road was not on the agenda of his own meeting with Fillon.

"The transportation ministry and the ministry of natural resources of Russia will have to make corresponding conclusion, at which point we will reach a final decision on the road itself," Putin said during a joint press appearance with visiting French Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Vedomosti said that France was taking part in the project through the Vinci firm, which controls half the shares of one of the Russian partners in the deal.

Russia would have had to pay France a breach-of-contract penalty equivalent to three to 3.5 billion rubles (100 to 110 million dollars) if the road had not been built, the daily reported.

Fillon confirmed that France was interested in the project, but refused to comment on its future.

"French companies are obviously waiting for the Russian government's decision, but it is not up to the French government to be making statements on this issue," he said.

The Khimki road has sparked furious protests that received national attention through the press.

The construction was angrily opposed by Mikhail Beketov, editor of the Khimkinskaya Pravda weekly who suffered brain damage following a November 2008 attack.

The controvery was also covered by Kommersant business daily reporter Oleg Kashin, who was severely beaten last month in an assault that was taped by security cameras and later televised across the nation.

That attack, which sparked renewed international concern for the state of media freedoms in Russia, prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to vow to protect reporters' rights.

© 2010 AFP

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